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Below the Line: A Charlie Waldo Novel


Below the Line: A Charlie Waldo Novel

Howard Michael Gould introduced ex-LAPD cop Charlie Waldo in 2018’s critically acclaimed LAST LOOKS. Waldo is so unusual a character to take the place of honor in a detective novel that any fan of the genre owes it to themselves to at least take a look at that worthy book and BELOW THE LINE, Gould’s sophomore effort.

It must be said that Waldo takes the minimalist lifestyle to an extreme, limiting himself to the ownership of a hundred items at any one time. There is a reason for this that is explained to some degree in the previous book, but it makes for a nice contrast with the hedonistic, ultra-materialistic backdrop of southern California. His lifestyle, of course, gets in the way of his work as a private investigator (he travels only by public transportation or bicycle) and his relationship with Lorena Nascimento, his on-again/off-again professional and personal partner. Lorena, in all probability, has difficulty limiting herself to a hundred pairs of shoes, let alone anything else. As is demonstrated repeatedly in BELOW THE LINE, it is also challenging for a couple to successfully hook up while on the road when only an extremely ecologically correct hotel will do and the girlfriend of the piece keeps hiding the “don’t change the sheets” card.

"Gould’s mystery writing is honed to a razor-sharp finish, with a striking cast of characters who seem to leap off the page."

All of the above, though, is part of the (sometimes) irritating fun of this book. While Waldo’s schtick gets a bit old here, Gould’s mystery writing is honed to a razor-sharp finish, with a striking cast of characters who seem to leap off the page. Front and center of those would be Stevie Rose, a spoiled, hot-to-trot teenager who retains Waldo and Lorena to find her brother, who she says is missing. It is evident almost from her first point of introduction that Stevie is trouble, and the only time that she isn’t lying is when her lips aren’t moving.

Things quickly move from a missing person assignment to an entirely different area when Stevie claims to have been seduced by a teacher from her exclusive private high school. When said teacher turns up as a murder victim, the LAPD considers Stevie to be the prime suspect. “Big Jim” Cuppy, who was and is Waldo’s prime nemesis on the force, is leading the investigation, which means that Waldo and Lorena are hindered officially by the police, as well as unofficially by their own client. The problem that develops is that basically everybody is lying to Waldo when they aren’t trying to beat him very badly or otherwise dissuade him from discovering the truth about Stevie and a number of other things. Everyone has too much to lose, including Waldo, strange as that may seem.

BELOW THE LINE is very much a character-driven novel, and as irritating as Waldo is at times, Gould fills his creation with enough positive qualities to make him somewhat endearing, even as Waldo’s rabid anti-consumerism almost gets in the way of the story on occasion. Lorena provides an interesting, if excessive, balance to the team and to the story. As a result, it isn’t until the very end of the book that the reader discovers how everything turns out. Maybe. Read it and see.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 23, 2019

Below the Line: A Charlie Waldo Novel
by Howard Michael Gould

  • Publication Date: August 13, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton
  • ISBN-10: 1524744867
  • ISBN-13: 9781524744861